The see-sawing continued as the US car market swung back with exuberant fashion following growth in January and a dip in February. With sales growing by 6.3%, March was the best performance the US car market has seen in over two years, with many brands recording growth rates of over 30%. As in previous months, it is too early to speculate whether this means that the market will grow or shrink in 2018, but the omens are certainly good – consumer confidence is high, gas prices are not too high, and the economy is chugging along very nicely. However, while year-to-date sales are now up 2.0% on this time last year, this is a slim advantage that could easily be wiped out by a single bad month.
Eight of the Top 10 brands recorded positive growth in March, a better performance that in January (six) and February (three)
Unlike in January and February, it was the mainstream brands that lead the way with a 6.6% rise in sales, relative to a 4.1% rise in sales for luxury brands
From among the Top 10 brands by far the biggest winner was once again Jeep in sixth, whose sales rise of 44.7% makes 2017 seem like a distant nightmare (sales declined each month); what’s more, things are only likely to get better as the new Wrangler and redesigned Cherokee hit the market
Two other brands experienced double-digit growth: Chevrolet saw its sales rise 15.6%, allowing it to claw back a bit of the deficit to Toyota (which remains ahead in the YTD standings after another good month), and GMC, whose 11.4% almost erased its YTD sales decline, and allowed it to hold onto ninth in the standings
Most other brands in the Top 10 recorded solid if unspectacular single-digit growth, with the exception being Nissan, whose YTD sales growth is now down to only 0.5%, and Hyundai, which in keeping with recent trends saw its sales fall by a little over 10%
Just outside of the Top 10 two mainstream brands put in a great performance: Mazda sales were up 35.7% and Volkswagen sales were up 17.8%, with the former’s faster pace of growth allowing it to overtake its German rival in the YTD ranking, if only by 43 units
Interestingly, the two brands’ sales growth highlights the importance of crossovers such as the Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan L and Atlas in the US market, with crossover sales accounting for over half of Volkswagen’s sales in March, compared to less than 20% just a year ago
There were plenty of other good performances among mainstream brands lower down the standings ladder, with Buick seeing its sales rise by 28.0%, Chrysler seeing an unusual 14.9% sales rise that almost wiped out its YTD sales loss, and Mitsubishi continuing its sales growth of over 20% so far this year
Nonetheless, a few mainstream brands lost out: Ram‘s sales continued their decline as the market waits for the new Pickup, Dodge was unable to get back in the black as it lost 1.8%, Mini was unable to build on its amazing 40% plus sales growth in February as its sales fell 9.1%, all but erasing its YTD sales gains, while the misery continued at Fiat and Smart
The fortunes of luxury brands were pretty varied in March, with many brands posting strong double-digit growth, a few posting moderate losses, and a few posting serious double-digit declines
Just as in February, the clear winner in March was Volvo, whose sales were up 53.9% on the back of demand for the new XC60, as well as Land Rover, whose sales were up 37.8%
Other clear winners included Audi (sales up 7.4%, extending its growth streak to 101 months), Cadillac (sales up 12.7%), Acura (whose sales increase of 15.7% pushed its YTD sales growth solidly into the black), Porsche (sales up 6.2%) and Alfa Romeo, which set a new sales record of 2,576, more than 20% higher than its previous high, and impressively only some 20% down on Jaguar one place ahead of it in the standings
Surprisingly, many of the leading luxury brands registered modest declines in March, with sales down 1.8% at Mercedes-Benz, 3.2% down at Lexus, 4.6% down at Infiniti and 2.1% down at Lincoln
Still, this was nothing compared to the 21.0% sales drop at Genesis, or the alarming sales drops of over 30% at Maserati and Jaguar (at least with the British brand there is a sense that respite is coming in the shape of the E-Pace on the lower end and the electric i-Pace on the high end – Maserati has no new products or even updates in the pipeline)
Among exclusive brands McLaren once again doubled its sales, Bentley unexpectedly saw its sales fall by 33.7% after it finally recorded positive growth in February, while Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini both recorded sales declines (Ferrari is yet to report its figures for March)
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